October 16, 2012
By Kaylee Hultgren
A&E is close to ditching acquired series in primetime, said Bob DeBitetto, pres & gm, A&E and Bio, at CTAM Summit’s gen session Mon. “By the end of next year, we’ll be 100% original in primetime. We’re probably out of the business for buying network reruns,” he said, projecting that companies that own their own content are going to be the real successes. “We’re moving away from the rerun model.”
That’s a far cry from when he arrived at A&E, during a time when “ratings were going in the wrong direction” and the median age of the audience was 62—and getting older by one year after year. “Literally, the audience was going to die,” he said, inspiring laughter from attendees. And the decision that got A&E where it is today defied “every traditional notion of how to run a network,” he said, with the company “rather rudely show[ing] our traditional core audience the door.” Once “Growing up Gotti” and “Dog the Bounty Hunter” premiered in ’04 and the scathing emails came flooding in, “I knew we were on to something.”
A&E’s next chapter is scripted, which will comprise about 10% of its programming (ideally 4 series a year). It will be “much more highly serialized,” and the net will ask whether shows feel like broadcast as a barometer (shall we call it a broadcast-arometer?). “If you can conceive of this show being on broadcast, then it is not right,” he said. The scripted slate will play a “very critical part” in A&E’s next stage, in part because the press tends to love scripted, it drives buzz and it can even shape pricing. “Great breakout scripted programming does a lot for a network,” he said.
For Bravo, which is moving into scripted as well, the challenge will be to match the degree of drama seen in franchises like “The Real Housewives” with its new scripted slate. “Some of our reality drama is paced so high, you look at it and go, ‘you can’t make that s@#t up,’” said Frances Berwick, pres, Bravo and Style Media. “Scripted feels a bit quiet by comparison.” Additionally, scripted takes a lot longer to develop.
And then there’s AMC, which is taking the opposite road by moving into reality. Scripted has worked incredibly well for the net (see Sun night’s “Walking Dead” numbers below, which pres/gm Charlie Collier said “exceeded even our expectations”). Rather than try to make every show everyone’s favorite, the net’s strategy is to “super serve a target viewer,” Collier said. With reality, the net’s goal is to try to slow down the story and build character more, something AMC has been noted for doing with scripted. Moving into originals territory has been a huge transition for cable, said Collier. The industry has moved from “that which we borrowed to that which we built,” he said. “It’s not just a brand transformation, but also a business one.”